Penang’s Obscura Festival turns six with biggest showcase yet, says director

We Will Have Been Young exhibition by South-east Asian Masterclass participants at Hin Bus Depot. — Pictures courtesy of Obscura Festival
We Will Have Been Young exhibition by South-east Asian Masterclass participants at Hin Bus Depot. — Pictures courtesy of Obscura Festival

GEORGE TOWN, July 31 — Obscura Festival of Photography will be held for the sixth year in conjunction with this year’s George Town Festival and it will feature the largest showcase of photography works this time.

The fringe festival will feature over 20 photography works from every continent in the world and according to festival director Vignes Balasingam, it will be the biggest artists’ representation in the festival since it started in 2013.

“This year’s theme, Multiplicity revolves around the ideas of multiple truths and how we as individuals nations and societies navigate this landscape of varying realities,” he said.

The festival will have curated exhibitions that included printed works, multimedia projections, book exhibitions and a series of talks.

Vignes said the festival has grown tremendously in the last six years and they have since developed many masterclass programmes for South-east Asian photographers that resulted in photo books being published last year.

Festival director Vignes Balasingam opening the 2017 Obscura Festival of Photography.
Festival director Vignes Balasingam opening the 2017 Obscura Festival of Photography.

The festival has helped close to 200 participants through its workshops and masterclasses, some of these were held through collaborations with tertiary institutions.

“We have also taken Malaysian photography and photographers to the world, and vice-versa,” he said.

“Some of our participants from the early years of the festival I know are publishing their own books and blooming to become some of the region’s most well-known photographers,” he added.

The festival also had its first artists-in-residence in Penang and as a result, the work by the artist will soon be published. Vignes said it will be the second book published by the festival.

He believed that the annual festival has a real connection to the society it is part of and he is happy to see the growth of the festival each year.

The success of the festival is such that it now has a travelling exhibition from last year’s Obscura Festival in Penang.

Vignes said the traveling exhibition has already travelled to Singapore, Bandung, Jakarta and will soon be opening in conjunction with this year’s festival in Manila.

“The project will travel to other parts of South-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand and then for a show in Frankfurt in 2019,” he said.

Each year, the festival was also invited to curate work at other festivals around the world such as Photo 17 in Zürich, Switzerland recently.

Despite the successes of the festival, Vignes said they still get very little support from Malaysian stakeholders.

“We are well received by international organisations around the world, we receive invitations each year for collaborations as well as providing us with support, but it is very difficult for us annually to keep running a festival that is still a fringe locally despite being around for six years now,” he said.

Obscura Festival opens on August 25 with exhibitions, masterclasses, presentations, photo books, panel discussions and portfolio reviews.

This year, there will also be artist talks by 20 photographers selected from an open call theme and a selection of photo books by various curators from around the by the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive will also be available for browsing.

This year, there will be four masterclasses, which will be held from August 6 to 19, by Ian Teh, Wawi Navarroza, Leonard Pongo and Maggie Steber.

Photographers can also start compiling their portfolio and take part in the festival’s portfolio reviews on August 25 where they can showcase their work to professional photographers, editors, festival directors and curators.

The festival is supported by GTF, the Goethe-Institut, the Asia Centre through the Japan Foundation, and is held in partnership with Yale-NUS, Singapore; the Photographic Studies College, Australia and the Queensland College of Art, Australia.

Those interested in the masterclasses and portfolio review session must register on the festival website. Festival activities and schedule is also available at obscurafestival.com. For further enquiries about the festival, please email [email protected].

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